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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Point of Departure, Delhi

John Schaut

I dedicate this last post from India en route back to the U.S., to John Schaut. I met John in Florida and wrote a little about him. He passed a number of days ago and I like to think I was able to share a little of this trip with him. I was looking forward to meeting him again, but events take other courses.


I picked up a couple of families!

Here is Dolma and he family (and a couple of wonderful friends, as well) from a day trip we took to Bir. I'll write more on that later. Enough to say that I've grown pretty fond of her and her family.


The Fam


And here are the Budan Nomads, as Lhawang put it! I will miss these guys terribly. We've spent a lot of time talking politics, religion, history, Tibet, the current issues and more. Thanks to Fleur for snapping this photo. Lordy, I'll miss her, too!

Budan nomads

Tabo, Phuntsok, Lhawang, your humble narrator, Rabgay - yo! Budan Represent!





Monday, March 26, 2012

In memoriam

Another immolation. This time in Delhi at the Jantar Mantar. Tell me, world, how many more?

Let us pray for the causes and conditions to ripen to bring peaceful resolution to the more than sixty years of pain and suffering that brought Jamphel Yeshi to engulf himself in flames.

Tibetan operaThe news came to me as I was filming the last opera at TIPA. It's difficult to watch this now without understanding that the reason I get to see a Tibetan folk opera outside of Tibet, of necessity, is the same as the cause for which this man and others have set themselves afire.

Truly let there be an end to this suffering and its cause. Let healing and its causes begin.

It's hard to imagine that there will be genuine happiness for Tibet and her people until these causes and conditions take root.

Another martyr. Another prayer.

26/3/2012, 3:26 pm

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Week Later: 10 March

I missed the speeches and assembly at Namgyal Temple, but joined the crowd in a march. It occurred to me that this day is actually every day here and elsewhere for Tibetans all around the world. Admittedly, you won't hear Tibetan kids discussing the events that led up to the invasion, but that they're aware of not having a home of their own and living in someone else's country as basically the biggest party of house guests for the past fifty plus years is indisputable.

10/3 picture

Every Tibetan I know is profoundly grateful for India's hospitality, but there is an overarching underpinning of longing for a land of their own and the knowledge that self-determination was wrested from them by one of the most repressive regimes in history runs deep.

"Rangzen" means "freedom", "independence" and so forth, but the middle way alternative is quite a bit less than that. The solution developed by His Holiness struck many as pragmatic and reasonable, but the Chinese Communist Party is anything but reasonable and for the second time in late twentieth century history, the Tibetans have paid for naïveté in trusting the oligarchs of CCP. The middle way has come to be seen as a boondoggle at best, capitulation at worst and it remains to be seen whether the younger generation continues to pursue this policy after His Holiness has passed from this earthly realm or if there is renewed clamor for full independence.

Wall with posters

To be sure, most Tibetans will not speak negatively of His Holiness's policies or decisions, but there are more voices that are asking serious questions and looking for a truly free Tibet. Jamyang Norbu, Lhasang Tsering and others continue to voice their criticisms. The Tibetan Youth Congress is likewise a vital group that His Holiness once referred to as "my loyal opposition". And of course, Students for Free Tibet's slogan remains "Tibet will be free".

I've written about this here before, and some would say more stridently or emphatically perhaps, but I'm thinking that today its enough to reflect quietly on what the occupation of more than half a century means to the people who are drive to flight or self-immolation. With each passing year, the vigils and protests grow more solemn and days that were traditionally days of celebration turn to periods of mourning.

I've heard the refrain "there are so many other problems in the world" as an answer to why people tend to support other causes, but I continue to be passionate about this because it stands as one of the most, if not the most egregious example of global apathy in the face of an invasion and subsequent occupation (and cowardice; the Chinese leadership routinely tells the rest of the world to fuck off butt out, but no one plays similar hardball with them) but also, perhaps the ramifications of that invasion opened the door for further displays of similar invasion-occupations (not the least of which might be the U.S. invasions of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan as the three that come most readily to mind; substitute "liberation of the Han minorities" with "bringing them democracy" and the flavor isn't so different). In any event, if the Chinese can invade and occupy another nation, why can't anyone else?

The issue of Tibet is striking in its repercussions. It also shows what happens when the invader really doesn't care what anyone else thinks. It's arguable that if the Nixon, Bush and now, Obama administrations were more ruthless, the aforementioned invasions would have resulted in new U.S. territories. Well, obviously, we're not done with Afghanistan wonders if there isn't a cadre in D.C. that asks on a regular basis how China does it.

To be sure, given how much our mainstream press is muzzled by corporate interests, dissent routinely stifled by police action and the administration's crack-down on whistlblowers, the only thing that's missing are gulags/lao gai. Oh, wait, we have more individuals per capita in prison than anyone...including, um, we, the People's Republic of China! Cool! But fortunately, there is an alternative press, there are people willing to voice dissent and face imprisonment and if we think that's tough to do in the U.S., how much more so is it in Tibet. Essentially, supporting Tibet is standing tall with others who refuse to knuckle under and want to speak truth to power. If you live in an area that doesn't have a Tibetan population, throw some love to the organizations I've mentioned before.

If you do live in an area that does have a substantial number, consider getting involved or just show a little support and solidarity. Go to a vigil, listen deeply to stories of the exile.

If you have other causes to support, I'm right with you. But I'm here and it would be a gross disservice not to convey the plight of this community and provide ways of contributing to easing that plight. Moreover, you can be sure there's more to come.




Friday, March 9, 2012

Reading Assignments

I know some of you would like me to just post pretty pictures and stories about, well, probably anything but the Tibetan situation, but I ask you to consider (again) what's wrong with this picture: if things are so swell inside Tibet, why are relatives of friends of mine avoiding going back for fear of detention and "re-education" pogroms (one answer is here)? Why do so many continue to flee Tibet? Why do people set themselves on fire?I'd like it if everyone reading this does a little more research.

"China considers self-immolation an act of violence and terrorism, and has accused the “splittist” Dalai Lama and the “Dalai Lama clique” of encouraging the act." Bitch, please, get over yourself. As for the rest of the world, grow some 'nads and take this to the mat. Oh, the PRC has substantial investment in your country (and mine...)? So? Make Tibet and human rights conditions for repayment on loans and returns on investment. Don't want to impose sanctions on China? Fine, but quit rolling over.

As E.F. Schumacher pointed out, economics is made of meta-economic factors (not just labor, but communities, families and individuals that cannot be reduced to economic units without becoming mere abstractions at best). As for sanctions and defaulting on loans, the Chinese Communist Party is paranoid enough, often with no good reason. I wouldn't want to encourage the pricks, but it would be great to see the party collapse in on itself in a fit of confusion and madness. Problem there is they'd take a lot of innocent people with them; one and a half billion is far too much of a price to pay.

With any hope, the CCP will eventually be ousted by an electorate. In the meantime, their thuggery will continue unabated by a world too cowardly or apathetic to check them. So you think Tibet is just a minor problem that is a "done deal"? Don't rely on me. Do some research. Talk to a Tibetan, but don't for a minute think that Tibet doesn't matter. It's not just a bargaining chip in dealings with the Chinese hegemons; it's an occupied country as much as any other, taken by force and brutalized to near-extinction. My conscience bugs me about this on a regular basis, more so since I'm here in Dharamsala. My hope for both Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet vacillates, but I really do want to yell "Rangzen!" from the Potala. It would be my strongest hope that I would yell it as an affirmation for a Tibet freed from the oppression of one of the most blindly aggressive regimes around right now.

For further reading:

Three Tibetans Die After Self-Immolations (New York Times! So this is being reported by major news outlets!)

Women Energize Tibetan Struggle (Radio Free Asia)

Also, terrific interviews with two of my favorite people in the Tibetan Freedom Movement: Lhasang Tsering and Lhadon Thetong.

And once again, throw some attention and maybe funds and support to:

Students for Free Tibet

Stand Up for Tibet

Tibet Action Institute

Rangzen Alliance

Tibet Connection



Thursday, March 8, 2012

Missed something special yesterday: Happy Belated International Women's Day!


Yesterday was a pretty wonderful day. Among other things, it was Chotrul Duchen, the day of miracles; the anniversaries of both Marpa Lotsawa (one of the seminal figures in resurgence of translating Indian Buddhist texts into Tibetan as well as the progenitor of the Kagyu lineage) and Garab Dorje (the first Dzogchen master); it was Holi, the Hindu spring festival where people throw vivid pigments at each other (which normally I think would be fun, but I just had my laundry done); and His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave teachings on a couple of Jatakas tales as a lead-in to a Chenrezig empowerment.

But I kindasorta missed that it was International Women's Day! This, despite His Holiness making a pretty strong argument that more women are needed in international roles. In fact, he was fairly adamant about women getting men out of the way when it comes to governance. War? Environmental destruction? Corporate malfeasance? Most of the players who perpetuate such wonderful fun are, well, um, guys. Maybe not all the time, but for the most part, yeah, the masculine brain trust is really good at plundering, despoiling, raping and trashing. Sure, there are women who may be married to and perhaps even support their menfolk in these actions, but I wonder if it's due more to a kind of Stockholm Syndrome that's sort of cropped up over the millennia.

Some reading material for you to read, ponder and share, in addition to the International Women's Day link above:

I think we should all commit to working toward greater equality over the coming year with a renwed sense of vigor. Can't hurt, right?

Plus, tomorrow promises to be a pretty active day here in Dhamsala, being the fifty-third anniversary of the invasion of Lhasa and the uprising against the Chinese that kicked off the Tibetan diaspora that continues to this day. Oh, and for those of you not paying attention, the first lay-women just self-immolated days ago.

I was going to include a short paragraph, but it's ballooned a little bit. Soooo, one more post today.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

23.2.2012: The Blessing of the Mountains

Every day begins with the blessing of the mountains. The past few days, the snow-dusted peaks are shrouded in misty clouds that pass by the summits and keep the sky in a crepuscular state for much of the day.

We strolled down Bagsu in search of a cafe or restaurant at which to sit and chat. The clouds had descended to the road and rendered our walk dream-like. A burgundy robed figure came forward and disappeared into the dream. At the end of the street is The Bagsu, a fairly massive hotel and well-appointed but we agreed that the restaurant was too dark, empty and uninviting. We decided to head back to the main market for our sit.

On the way back, looking down into the valley was more magic; pines like seaweed under the waves of clouds. The sun was a brightening orb pearl in the sky, still behind a veil of mist and smoke.

I held my silence as brother and sister spoke, stopped and greeted people here and there on this second day of Losar, the Tibetan New Year. Despite the car horns and motorcycle beeps, even the ambient noise seemed muted by the clouds, although by now, these had passed and the sky was lightening somewhat.

at the cafe overlooking the main square, we discussed my travel plans, the day before each had had before meeting and watched the sun attempt to burn through the clouds. Perhaps the that was a trace of blue behind a diaphanous puff of cumulus. The hawker for the Tibetan Youth Congress below seemed to grow louder, so we took ourselves inside where we had our coffees and chatted about this and that. My second cup was called an "Ethiopian Coffee". I don't know if it was genuine Ethiopian. I suspect not. I know my coffees pretty well and there wasn't much flavor in this. Additionally, it was dressed with steamed milk and I think what it amounted to was someone at the cafe's idea of how to market a extra large cappuccino.

It caught the attention of a young American fellow sitting to my left and I told him I didn't think this was Ethiopian,but it might actually taste better without the steamed milk. He thought it worth ordering and tried to order one without the dairy. That didn't happen, but we struck up a conversation about Houston,which led to a discussion about my years in the book business which somehow got us on the subject of buddhism, a topic that provides, I'd guess, a good sixty-five to seventy-five percent of the conversation around here.

His questions were pretty of the moment for him and we had a engaging discussion a out what Buddhism, specifically Tibetan Buddhism, is becoming in its American context. He noted that in the States he seemed to detect a lot of "Buddhism Lite"; a Buddhism that doesn't particularly pay a lot of attention to karma and rebirth, for example, and that seems to focus on a more psychotherapeutic approach. I agreed and added that this might be the salient different between how Buddhism in general is migrating to the west, but specifically (again, the specific) with regard to Tibetan Buddhism, it's taking an interesting turn.

He asked what I thought about it and I used an answer I've kept in my back pocket for a while. Frankly, Buddhism is psychology. Of the highest order. But also, I think it's fair to say that people are looking for a safe place to grow when they get involved in dharma. You do, after all, "go for refuge". We talked a little more about how once in with dharma teachings nd practice, the cross-cultural dialog becomes more intriguing. As he said, many of the monks he met said that teachings are very different in Tibet where there is no question or answer period after the discourse and you canbe pretty sure that emotional issues, personal problems and the like are probably not bandied about in the open, either. He asked me what I thought about that.

I said that's one of the big differences between the traditional approach and what happens in a Euro-American context. A lot of the lamas I know like teaching in the west because they enjoy the questions, they respect the seriousness that westerners bring to the teachings as they feel that the questions are for the most part genuine and not superficial. In the longer term we'll see.

I recently where it's not so much a matter of Buddhism adapting to westerners as westerners adapting to Budshism. This may be so, but it glosses over cultural nuances and understanding of the steps of evolution in the forms Buddhism does, in fact, take when transitioning into a new environment. And let's be sure, Buddhism is not monolithic. Plus, it's entering, been entering a highly diverse and pluralistic world. It might make more sense to think in terms of Buddhisms.

I think what the west brings to the table, for instance, is a philosophical (and for that matter, psychological) vocabulary that may help render the Buddha's teachings more important in a lived sense (as opposed to a merely devotional one, though I hasten to add, those aspects are extremely important as well for a "lived sense").

He asked about my teachers, the different lineages and the one, as he put it, that I've aligned myself with. I was quick to correct him that while in the break-out of the population of my teachers, one lineage or family (thanks to Bob Thurman for that) is predominant, I don't play party favorites. I've started with teachers from all the various families, but/and I do mostly perform the practices of one or more than the others, but where there's a connection, I try to be as faithful to the lama from whom I received the teachings or practices. In fact, that was sort of a touchstone for me; it's the lama more than the lineage for me.

As these things go, this was a good conversation; however, I realized I'd neglected my friends (although they didn't seem to mind - I think they had plenty of other things to talk about) and we soon took our leave. The three of us parted at the foot of the walk way to their building and I headed down the steps to my apartment where I sat and meditated for an hour or so.

For a short bit, I was wondering where I'd go out for dinner; I hadn't checked email because none of the places that had wi-fi were open. The one that did have it, hadn't opened earlier, so I thought to go there; but then, something better occurred to me. Why go out and sit in a cafe (again) when you're not exactly enamored of the idea? Funny mind, funny thoughts.

This is the crux of so many of our issues; identifying with thoughts, giving them so much more influence than they need, which in turn, seems to lead us to just "do stuff" for the willy-nilly sake of doing stuff. Email can wait, downloading that text can wait. Sipping tea at home and reviewing this day is more precious to me. Saving the document, shutting down and doing another sit before bed is even more so.